BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Lunar New Year festivities are expected to be muted this year as the government has banned celebrants from holding the customary open house, with at-home gatherings limited to immediate family members.

The health minister announced on Thursday that COVID-19 precautionary measures must be taken during the Lunar New Year celebrations, which start on February 12.

Individuals who are feeling unwell or have signs of infection are not permitted to visit or be visited by family, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said during a press briefing.

Physical contact such as handshakes and hugging should be avoided, while sharing of cutlery is also discouraged.

Those with large families will be allowed to hold private events at banquet halls, hotels or restaurants provided gatherings are limited to 350 people and health protocols are followed.

Lion dance performances are permitted during private events but venues must obtain a BruHealth QR code in advance. Lion dance troupe members and guests must scan the BruHealth QR code before entering and on exiting the premises.

The guidelines were similar to social distancing measures for Raya celebrations last May, despite the country continuing its run of no locally acquired COVID-19 cases for 267 days.

Four new imported cases reported

The government detected four new imported coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking the national COVID-19 tally to 180.

Two of the cases – a 10-month-old infant and his 26-year-old aunt — arrived from India via Royal Brunei Airlines flight BI4112 on January 15.

Another case involved a 28-year-old man who travelled from Indonesia via Singapore aboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ148 on January 15.

A 29-year-old woman also tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving from Dubai on January 25 through Singapore Airlines flight SQ148.

Seven active cases are being treated at the National Isolation Centre as one fully-recovered patient was discharged in the past 24 hours.

The minister said the latest infections meant that there was an increasing trend of imported COVID-19 cases in Brunei, which correlate with the mounting number of cases worldwide.

Brunei has logged 39 imported cases since the last local COVID-19 transmission was reported on May 6 last year.

Global coronavirus cases passed the 100 million mark on Wednesday, accounting for 1.3 percent of the world population.

The US topped the world’s highest number of COVID-19 infections with over 25 million cases, followed by India and Brazil.

Brunei has categorised countries such as the US, UK, Malaysia and India as high-risk, deferring Bruneian students’ return to universities in these countries until least February 28.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said strict border control, mandatory quarantine and testing have been crucial to preventing any community transmission for nine months.

This article was updated on February 2, 2021 to reflect updated health guidelines from the Ministry of Health regarding Lunar New Year festivities.